The Public Interest

Jobs and the Negro family: a reappraisal

Claire C. Hodge & Edwin Harwood

Spring 1971

LOUISE MERIWETHER’S recent novel, Daddy Was a Number Runner, deals with an adolescent Negro girl in Harlem at the depth of the Depression. Although the young heroine manages to fend off a variety of local predators—mostly whites who make sexual advances—she proves powerless to prevent the disintegration of her family, a process that becomes the dramatic anchor in the book’s plot. When her father stumbles hard against New York’s job-scarce labor market, her mother starts work as a domestic for a suburban housewife, at first for a few half-days a week, but, towards the end of the novel, on almost a full-time basis. She knows it wounds Dad’s pride, but the children must eat. What little Dad does manage to earn, by running numbers slips for the racketeers, he squanders on bets. The conclusion is foregone. Bitter at his wifes taking relief and going to work as a domestic, he fades from the home and becomes “a street-corner man.”

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